Unitarian Universalist Congregation
of Northern Chautauqua

companionship on life's sacred journey

Gratitude for the gifts of nature

June 2017

In this lush springtime on the Lake Erie shore, my heart is filled with gratitude for the many natural gifts we see all around us – the blooming flowers, the fields filled with the promise of greening crops, the majesty of the trees and the forests, and the blue water stretching to the horizon. We are blessed here in so many ways.

In my heart, these and other blessings are the grounding for all the work I do. I rise to the challenges we face with energy and drive arising from praise and gratitude. Hear these words of Sharon Welch, a contemporary Unitarian Universalist ethicist and thinker:

“The ground of challenging exploitation, injustice and oppression is not a vision of how the world could be or will be in the future reign of God, or after the revolution. The ground of challenging injustice is gratitude, the heartfelt desire to honor the wonder of that which is; to cherish, to celebrate, to delight in the many gifts and joys of life.” – Sweet Dreams in America, p. 136

If I can experience these gifts and joys of nature in some measure, then surely it is right to work to preserve our natural world for the use and enjoyment of future generations. If I have experienced the benefits of human love and caring community, and used these to reach my own potential, then of course I will work to unravel patterns of injustice and oppression. I know these patterns unfairly block others from full realization of their potential.

I hope and pray the congregation I serve, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northern Chautauqua, will continue to be place where are grateful for these everyday joys, and also a place where we join together to heal the wounds of the world and break the bonds of injustice and repression.

May it ever be so.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2017 Reverend George Buchanan

The gift that keeps on giving

May 2017

Back before the turn of the century, humorist Erma Bombeck famously said “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.” We laugh, and yet many of us find ourselves living with more persistent guilt than we would like. More recently, David Brooks wrote thoughtfully about this in his New York Times column – “The Strange Persistence of Guilt.”

Mr. Brooks points out guilt and blame seem to be more powerful in our culture than ever before, even in the face of increasing secularization. Guilt, which some thought was a feeling induced by traditional religion, turns out to be in many ways even stronger as our culture grows more secular.

Brooks makes the further point that guilt seems to increase with our perception of our human power. If we have power, individually and collectively, to see the starving child in Sudan, then we should engage with the world to go and feed that child. And when we do not feed the child, we feel guilty.

I believe there is a liberal religious solution to this problem. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza believes, and I think correctly so, that the only way to truly get past a negative feeling is with a stronger feeling on the positive side. I suggest we each work to find what we are called to do – where our positive passion lies – and then go and follow this passion. As Joseph Campbell puts it, we can “follow our bliss.”

Our guilt can weaken and diminish to the extent we are focused on what we are truly called to do. I know this from my own life, and I can see it in the life of others. The guilt does not disappear completely, but it is more manageable and less disabling in our lives.

In May I will be preaching about this in two different sermons. Come join us to learn more about the wonders of the possibilities here.

May it ever be so.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2017 Reverend George Buchanan

A community of free and loving hearts

April 2017

We are, in our essence, a gathered community of free and loving hearts. We have each chosen to live lives where we guard the freedom of our hearts very carefully. And then we have freely chosen to link our hearts in the religious congregation we call the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northern Chautauqua.

In this religious congregation, we have a simple premise. We believe we can gather and work together and care for one another in a loving way. We are protected by the promises we make to one another about our mutual appreciation and respect. No creed binds us; rather, we hew to our mutual promises embodied in the covenant we share.

This tradition of covenantal living runs deep in both our Unitarian and Universalist traditions – at least two centuries, and more in some ways. Those who blazed this trail before us over the centuries stayed on this path for one reason: because it gives the freedom to be fully awake to the true calling of our hearts, the true voice of the Spirit of Life. When the old creeds and the old words would shackle us, we have stepped away and onward, to respond to the deepest callings of our hearts.

This is our essence as Unitarian Universalists.

May it ever be so.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2017 Reverend George Buchanan

We are not alone

March 2017

Eighty years ago President Franklin Roosevelt famously said: “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” We live in a different world now; we deal with new and different fears, with new and different dangers to ourselves and coming generations.

I think Roosevelt’s point is still a good one. We still risk allowing our fears to solidify into the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” he spoke of. Among all the risks facing us, I believe collapsing into this paralyzing terror is perhaps the greatest risk of all.

To deal with this, I recall the words of my friend and colleague Reverend Wayne Arnason. He writes: “Take courage friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage. For deep down, there is another truth: you are not alone.”

That’s right, we are not alone. Each of us comes to our congregational life with the courage we already have, no more and no less. We are welcome as we are, and who we are. And then we consciously work to encourage one another. We help one another to name the dangers we sense. And then we help one another find more of the fundamental sources of strength and courage we need to deal productively with our fears.

Our hearts can be made stronger in our shared life together.

May this ever be so.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2017 Reverend George Buchanan

The Journey of Life

February 2017

“Life is not a journey,” says Alan Watts. Watts goes on to explain that our lives are more like participation in a dance, or music. The point of the dance is not to get to the end, but rather to engage as smoothly and joyfully as we can in the dance. The same is true with music.

And in response I stammer: “but, but, but…” I know there are lots of things we need to do in life that feel unjoyous and unmusical – certainly they do not feel like dancing. And there are evil forces in the world; how can they be part of the music?

When I reflect on this, I see the deeper truth lies with Alan Watts. The mood of a journey is often one of delayed gratification, and finding ways to get to the destination more rapidly. Music calls us into a different mood, a mood where attention to present experience is paramount. And this attentive, here and now mood is fundamentally a happier, healthier place to be.

Of course we will go on journeys in our lives, both actual and metaphorical. The process of our formal education comes to mind. Looking back, I now understand my formal education as a process of widening my understanding of the world around me. I was learning, and still am learning, how to enjoy the music, and how to make a more skillful contribution to the music. Some of the learning steps are not fun, and I recognize these steps as necessary so I can get to the place I want to be.

But this journey of learning is not the goal. If there is a goal to life, it is to live joyously and wisely, in presence of all the pleasure and suffering that life brings.

I hope and pray our congregation will continue to be a community where we enjoy and participate in music-making, and a community where we are learning to live with more wisdom.

May it ever be so.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2017 Reverend George Buchanan

Moving Towards Racial Justice

January 2017

Questions of racial justice have been on my heart lately. The results of the recent election have encouraged some in their view that the struggle for justice is between races – that one race needs to dominate another, or that gains for one race are at the expense of another.

My view, and I hope our view as Unitarian Universalists, is entirely different. When our society moves towards full racial justice, the whole society is transformed and everyone fundamentally benefits. We support the full worth and dignity of every person, whatever their family background.

And in our congregation, we have organized a task force to consider what we are called to do now in terms of racial justice. I am deeply glad we are taking this on – it seems very timely.

I have lots of thoughts on this. However, what I think and feel is less important than what is in all your hearts.

I will offer one thought. The standard cultural set, the standard narrative, has a lot of implicit racial stereotyping built in. I hope and pray we will be open to considering different, more realistic and healthy narratives.

May it ever be so.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2017 Reverend George Buchanan

Ring the Bells

December 2016

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
— Leonard Cohen, Anthem

For many of us, the results of this election seem to leave us with a more difficult and dangerous world than we had hoped for. Perhaps there are fewer bells that still can ring for good in this imperfect world. No matter how we view the election, we certainly can agree our world continues to be less than perfect.

We know we are imperfect with lots of places in us where the light shines in. Knowing this, let’s work together to find those bells that still can ring for the good of the world. Knowing we are making an imperfect offering, let’s ring these bells with all our heart and all our strength. Let’s ring the bells of climate justice. Let’s ring the bells of racial justice. Let’s ring the bells of rainbow justice. Let’s ring these bells even more in times when our values are being called into question. The world needs the powerful music of these bells even more in the hard times.

And particularly, let’s have our light shine here in Northern Chautauqua, as we continue to ring the bell of freedom – religious freedom and freedom for all people. In our imperfection, we welcome the light coming in for ourselves. And then we share it. I hope and pray this congregation will continue to share this light of freedom, love and justice with all the world.

Ring the bells, share the light.

May it ever be so.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2016 Reverend George Buchanan

A prayer for love and justice

November 2016

May we continue to define ourselves by our ongoing work for love and justice, our work to help realize the Beloved Community.

Yes, we encounter times of loss and we feel despair. And then we look at what we need to do with clear eyes. Our work together in these coming days may be altered by unforeseen events. And still the vision remains the same – a world made fair and ALL her people free.

May it ever be so.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2016 Reverend George Buchanan

Building a Better World

November 2016

From the Heart

In our congregation, we know we are called beyond ourselves to aid in the work of building a better world – we know this is important. But we often do not agree on the detailed plans for our social justice and social service work.

So here’s a way to think about this, by analogy. Think of our social service and social justice work as the work of tending and harvesting a garden. We might decide to focus all our energy on having the most productive garden we can, so we can give away our surplus fruits and vegetables to those most in need around us. We urge one another to work from dawn to dusk, pushing on to the point of exhaustion, because there are always more mouths to feed.

Now this does not feel right, because it leaves us no time for reflection, or social life, or worship, or singing.

If we go to the other extreme, we could imagine a congregation where we never actually grow anything. We sit around and talk about what we like about gardening, and our great gardening exploits of the past. We might even sing some songs about gardening.

Of course the most useful path is something in between, and with complex combinations added. We do some gardening, and give some of our healthy produce away to those most in need. We also teach healthy gardening to one another, and to those who can learn. We coordinate our work with other faith communities. Some of us take the time to advocate for better food distribution and healthy soil.

Most important, we measure the success of our work by the way our hearts, and the hearts of those around us, are transformed. The combination of actions that transforms our hearts is the combination we need, and the world needs from us.

May it be so.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2016 Reverend George Buchanan

Transcending Mystery and Wonder

October 2016

From the Heart

Are our hearts open to the “forces that create and uphold life”? I try to arrange my life to be open in this way, knowing my steps on the path to being open are halting and sometimes uncertain. Even with my hesitation and uncertainty, I still know the singing joy that can arise when we are in tune with these forces. When the words just seem to flow easily and naturally onto the page, when the pencil creates wonderful images without much direct conscious thought, when I am swept up in the singing and dancing – these are all times when I have felt in touch with these creative, living forces. I hunger for more, and these feelings keep coming.

This joyful direct experience is my own entry point to understanding our congregation’s affirmation of: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”

This affirmation has lots of big long words in it; those words are only good if they guide our hearts to encounter the direct experience itself. Reverend Doctor Howard Thurman speaks of “the creative encounter.” You can say God is in this encounter, as Thurman does, but the encounter can happen whether you talk about God or not. Much more essential is the attitude of openness and welcome in our hearts.

May such quiet joy be in all our hearts.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2016 Reverend George Buchanan

A Personal Invitation

September 2016

From the Heart

First, I am looking forward to seeing everyone again in September!

And then I have a question:
You were invited; will you now invite someone?

Is it difficult to invite our friends, neighbors and co-workers to visit our congregation? Yes, it can be difficult. And yet many of us, perhaps most of us, first came to Unitarian Universalism through a personal invitation. So we know how important it is to invite newcomers to experience the wonderful things our liberal religious congregation offers.

Given all this, we are planning October 23 as a special “Invitation Sunday” this fall. We encourage all of you to make a special effort to invite others to join us on that Sunday. I will preach a special sermon, and we’ll have a time after the service for newcomers to ask questions about our congregation.

The author of the web page below suggests some good ways to understand these invitations. In particular, he suggests we tell our friends about why we enjoy this congregation so much, and then ask them to come to see what we enjoy.


Bright Blessings to all!
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2016 Reverend George Buchanan

Minister Messages from 2015 - 2016